OAKLAND, OCT. 20 -- Oakland A's Manager Tony La Russa decided late this afternoon not to start injured, ineffective Jose Canseco in tonight's fourth game of the World Series.

Playing with a sore back and a painful bruised finger, Canseco has gone one for 11 in the series and made a defensive misplay in Game 2 that led to some infighting among the A's and, ultimately, a clear-the-air meeting with La Russa Thursday.

"I just thought we'd be better off having Willie McGee in the lineup instead," La Russa said. "Jose is not 100 percent physically, and I thought we'd be better off not asking him to do things he's not physically capable of doing."

Canseco apparently took the benching without protest. "It's the manager's decision," he said. "I'll go out there when he tells me to, and I'll sit down in the dugout when he tells me to. . . . It's not my preference, but I'll live with it."

As for the Cincinnati Reds, they last played a World Series without Pete Rose in 1961. Yet it seemed almost as if Rose still was around for this week's showdown with the A's, for Chris Sabo has proved to be an updated, begoggled version of their longtime team leader.

"I think they're the same guy, in fact," Cincinnati reliever Rob Dibble said, "except I don't think Chris bets very much. Other than that, they're carbon copies."

Teammates say Sabo may have been the most adversely affected of the Reds throughout the Rose gambling scandal last season. Rose was Sabo's childhood hero -- which is clearly evident from even the most perfunctory examination of his hard-driving, single-minded approach to the game.

Sabo is a marine masquerading as a baseball player. He sports a crew cut and wears goggles that have prompted comparisons of his appearance to various forms of amphibian life. He is ceaselessly intense about the game -- to the exclusion of virtually everything else.

"He thinks about baseball all the time," Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. "I don't know that I've ever heard him talk about anything else."

Said Sabo: "This is my job, and I'm serious about my job. I'm not the most gifted player out there, but I'm going to get the most out of what I have. . . . I'm proud to be compared to Pete Rose, because he did the same thing and he was a great player."

A telling example of the Sabo grit came during Friday's Game 3. Not only did he hit home runs to spark Cincinnati's runaway victory, but he also offered some smash-face defense, setting a World Series record by handling 10 chances without an error.

Several of those plays were highly difficult, although Sabo's no-frills style makes it hard to describe any of the efforts as spectacular.

"I do the job," he said. "When I get to the ball, I usually make the play. No big deal."

Of course, the true attention grabbers were the mammoth homers. He always has been a tough, slashing hitter, but he entered this season with just 17 home runs in two big-league seasons.

Reds Manager Lou Piniella and hitting coach Tony Perez made some mechanical adjustments in Sabo's swing ("We just got him to use more of his body than his wrists," Perez said) during spring training, and the result was a 25-homer, 38-double campaign. He also scored 95 runs and had 71 RBI and 25 stolen bases despite knee problems.

He was the National League's starting third baseman in the All-Star Game, and he entered tonight's Game 4 with a legitimate chance of being the World Series most valuable player as well. Sabo was six for 12 with five RBI.

But even those exploits elicited little flair. His home run trots Friday resembled 360-foot sprints, and he rushed back to his seat on the bench with few antics each time.

"He just came back, sat down and said, 'Let's go out and play defense,' " Larkin said. "That's what you expect out of the guy. . . . Pete would've been proud." Erratic ERA

A's pitching coach Dave Duncan is trying to remain optimistic despite the World Series collapse of the staff that has won three straight American League ERA titles. Oakland starters have been abysmal, bringing an 0-2 record and 6.43 ERA into Dave Stewart's outing tonight; they had surrendered 20 hits, six walks and 14 runs (10 of them earned) in just 14 innings of work.

"We haven't been good, and we haven't been lucky," Duncan said. "What you have to hope is that when you're not going well the other team will not be on top of its game. Well, Cincinnati has not been very forgiving of our mistakes." . . .

Oakland's last three-game losing streak before the World Series was Aug. 19-21, 45 games ago. The A's lost four consecutive games only once during the regular season, and never before had they lost three World Series games in a row. . . . Oakland outfielder Rickey Henderson entered tonight with a 15-game postseason hitting streak.

McGee Not Popular

McGee, who had not endeared himself to his teammates by swinging at four straight first pitches with Henderson on base in Game 1, further alienated some A's Friday by showing up at 4:22 p.m. (for a 5:30 start), when most of Oakland's players already were on the field for batting practice. . . .

Cincinnati pitcher Jose Rijo entered tonight with a chance to make one birthday girl quite happy and one birthday boy rather disconsolate.

Rijo's wife turned 27 today, and his father in law -- Hall of Famer Juan Marichal -- turned 52. Marichal is an A's scout, and, asked about his allegiances, he waved his 1989 World Series championsip ring and said: "I want another one."